By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FRANKLIN, Mass. – There was little energy on the pitch, the passing was far from crisp, chances were practically non-existent and it seemed like both teams were grateful that halftime was only nine minutes away so they could try and regroup.
It was exactly how visiting Walpole and coach Bill Wallace wanted the first 31 minutes to go.
“When you play them in the tournament that’s how it goes,” said Franklin coach Tom Geysen. “I’m lucky it didn’t come down to penalty kicks because that’s how they play.”
“They don’t generate a whole lot of offense, but it’s always close with them because they don’t give you much.”
Then Victoria Stowell stepped up and curled a corner kick into the top corner to give Franklin the lead and changed the outlook for both teams at halftime.
“The corner kick screwed up our plan,” said Wallace, who had taken over two weeks ago when head coach Erin Kearney went into labor. “We usually don’t play a formation with five at the back and I think they did a great job on one day of preparation.”
He added, “She hit a laser…what are you going to do? With a team like that, then 1-0 is like 3-0.”
The goal stood as the game-winner, but also sparked a much-improved second half for the Panthers who ran out 3-0 winners and advanced to face league rival North Attleboro, which Wallace used to coach, on Sunday in the Div. 1 South quarterfinal.
There were chances in the first half, but all came within a four minute span. First Victoria set up her sister Alexis with a corner to the far post but the forward could not keep her header on frame.
Two minutes later, Walpole had a golden opportunity when Franklin’s normally rock solid defense allowed a player clean through on goal, but she dragged her shot wide of the post.
The Rebels had another chance shortly after when Meghan Dieterle and Dani Lonati had a miscommunication on a throw that bounced to Tayla Randall but she steered her header wide as well.
“The kids in the back, I don’t know if it was jitters or whatever, but they weren’t as tight as they usually are,” said Geysen. “I called timeout and told them to calm down on both sides of the ball.”
It was easier to calm down after Stowell’s “Olimpico” and at halftime Geysen reinforced his message that the Panthers needed to get back to playing their game.
“I said that you can’t allow them to be knocking you off the ball,” he explained. “I said, you have to put your big girl pants on an go after them and we kind of did that a little bit in the second half.”
Walpole was forced to come out of its shell a little in the second half and chase a goal, but also the Panthers started to move the ball with more purpose and make more runs off the ball to create scoring chances.
Victoria Stowell had the first chance on a free kick that skimmed the crossbar on its way past. Three minutes later and Alexis Stowell almost finished off a long throw by Ellie Teixeira, but Walpole keeper Kaitlin Brown did well to block.
Teixeira had a chance of her own after a good run forward by left back Abigail Gipson opened space in the middle but again Brown was on hand to make the save. Molly Duncan also had a chance from long range that forced Brown to back pedal and tip the shot over the bar.
With eight minutes to go, Alexis Stowell doubled Franklin’s lead. There was a mad scramble in the box, with several shots blocked by Brown and/or her defenders, and the ball popped loose to Stowell who managed to squeeze it inside the post.
Walpole had created no scoring opportunities since the opening minutes, so the lead looked safe, but Meghan Doherty ensured the win with a deflected shot from the edge of the box that gave Brown no chance.
Geysen hopes that the goal by Doherty and the performance of several young players will give them confidence against the Rocketeers in the next round. He explained that he writes a poem to the team before every game and that in this game’s poem he told them, “if you have butterflies that’s a good thing, it means you’re ready.”
He joked, “And some of them had more than butterflies.”
Franklin will host North Attleboro at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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